The pseudonymous Larkin (Finding George Orwell in Burma, 2005) exposes a totalitarian regime's obstacles to relief and recovery after the devastating cyclone of May 2, 2008.
Because of her pseudonym and her skill at disguising her frequent visits to Myanmar—the country officially changed its name from Burma, although the author persists in using the British designation—the Bangkok-based American journalist was able to penetrate the veil of secrecy surrounding the catastrophic damage of Cyclone Nargis. Satellite photos revealed that it had “significantly altered the landscape and must have caused substantial damage,” yet the official acknowledgement of the storm by the country's leader Gen. Than Shwe was slow to emerge, and the government obstructed the relief efforts of the UN and other international-aid agencies. Larkin traces these early frantic efforts to distribute aid in spite of the government's resistance and obfuscation—no pictures of the damage were allowed in “the regime's de facto mouthpiece,” the New Light of Myanmar, as the censors deemed them “negative.” The author attributes this recalcitrance to the military regime's paranoia at being invaded. The official death toll was released on May 17 (77,738 dead 55,917 missing), but the author was unsure about the sourcing of the statistics. As there was no reliable news available, Larkin often relied on rumors (“Finding reliable sources of information in Burma has always been difficult”). The middle section of the book is a fascinating examination of the 20-year iron rule of the reclusive Than, who ascended the military ranks and effectively keeps the country together through fear of insurgents and invaders. He abruptly moved the capital to Naypyidaw, keeps the opposition and monks jailed so there is no one to vote or demonstrate against him and operates under the guidance of astrology. Once again Larkin does a fine job exposing injustice in this impoverished, deeply troubled pocket of the world.
An eye-opening, urgent look behind an official screen of lies.